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Black Rat Snake

Elaphe obsolete obsoleta

The black rat snake is completely black, except for its white chin and belly. (Furryscaly/Wikimedia Commons)
The black rat snake is completely black, except for its white chin and belly. (Furryscaly/Wikimedia Commons)

The black rat snake is a non-venomous snake with a long, black body and white belly. It can be found throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, from the mountains to the shoreline.


The black rat snake grows to 3.5 to 6 feet in length. It has a black, scaly body; a white belly and chin; and a wedge-shaped head. Young black rat snakes, called hatchlings, are light gray with black blotches along the back. 


One of the most common snakes found in suburban backyards; live in a wide variety of habitats, from rocky hills to dense forests to flat farmland


Found throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, from sea level to the Appalachian Mountains


Black rat snakes eat mostly small rodents such as mice, rats, moles and chipmunks; they are also known to feed on small lizards, frogs and bird eggs. They kill their prey by constriction, which means the snake coils its body around the prey and holds on until it suffocates to death. It then swallows its prey whole.


Protects itself from predators by coiling its body and vibrating its tail in dead leaves, imitating the sound of a rattle; they may also release a foul-smelling musk if threatened.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

These snakes emerge from hibernation in March through May and seek out a mate in late April to early June. Males use pheromones to initiate mating with females that pass through their territory. Five weeks after mating, females lay 12 to 20 eggs in a hidden area, such as under leaves or within a hollow log. Eggs hatch 65 to 70 days later. Females may lay two egg clutches per year, if conditions are right.

Other Facts:

  • These snakes are excellent climbers that are able to scale brick walls and tree trunks without any aid.
  • Shy and secretive, they usually avoid confrontation.
  • Although they may strike if they feel threatened, black rat snakes are not venomous.
  • Farmers often appreciate having black rat snakes around, as they will eat large amounts of rats, mice and other pests.

Sources and Additional Information:

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